Unlearning as A Woman
I found this quote by Amy Poehler a few weeks ago and couldn’t help wondering about my own unlearning as a woman. I believe that if we ever have to break the shackles of patriarchy completely, we need to spend as much time in unlearning as in learning. Maybe even more. Without much ado, I am listing down some of my crucial unlearning as a woman. I would love to hear about your journey too.
Not accepting "This is how a girl should behave"
One of the defining moments in my childhood was being told off to go and sit in the kitchen for trying to get a peek of the architectural plan of a house the "men" were discussing. I was about 10 years old then and fortunately, I became aware even at that tender age that this is not the way anyone should be treated. Our family, like any Indian family, is deeply patriarchal. So I should have accepted the experience as a norm. Instead, I took it as a challenge and my biggest dream in life became escaping from those who think like that. Little did I know that the entire world is filled with such people! Not accepting that norm has been my first unlearning.
Nobody is going to be there for me for my entire life - not my parents, not brothers, not husband and definitely not kids (Thanks to Manusmriti!)
When I decided to get away from the shackles of patriarchy, the next big question was how the hell I am going to do it? Though I read "A Room of One’s Own" much later in life, I am glad that my ten-year-old self perceived Woolf’s wisdom from the struggles of women around. I knew that being financially independent is the best thing I can do for myself. Looking back at a decade long career, it is the will power of that ten-year-old girl is what made I am today despite all the hurdles.
Cooking, Cleaning etc. are life skills and should never be based on gender
In every Indian family, girls are pushed to cook and clean the household at a very young age. At the same time their brothers would sit, relax and play games. I hated my mother for making me do such stuff. One part of me was ashamed of doing such chores as well because I thought that if I keep on doing such stuff I would end up like in kitchen like everybody else. It took me many years of living independently to understand that these skills are necessary for surviving in a world. I am glad to have let go of such notions. But I do really wish my parents have taught me that every person should help out in running a household instead of telling me to do all such chores because I was a girl.
Relationships are not just about giving, giving and giving
It's something that never mentioned explicitly and is deeply conditioned in the way we bring up girls in the society. Even though I could discern most of the deeply ingrained patriarchal conditioning, figuring out my place and needs in a relationship took me a long time. The experience was so scarring and looking back I couldn't even understand why I even stayed in such a dysfunctional relationship. I am grateful for the lesson, but the pain I put myself through was absolutely unnecessary.
Don’t play safe
I am yet to meet a woman who has not even been groped once in her lifetime. We cannot wait for the world to change to do the things we want to do with our lives. That day may never come in our lifetime. Only thing we can do is to grab the opportunities and leap off with a bit of faith. There might be some thorns, but there might be some flowers as well. Just a bit of faith, that's all we need. It is easy for me to say, I know. I was able to let go of any such notion of safety only because it was absolutely necessary for my survival. Otherwise I don’t know if I ever have tried to break my shell.
Most of us want to blame someone else for screwing up our lives. I have seen it as a common problem among many of my girl friends. Blame game is easy, but taking responsibility of our lives is difficult. I see too many women getting stuck in bad jobs and dysfunctional relationships because they thought their parents know better about their aspirations than they themselves know. I am not claiming that I know exactly what I want in my life. But I am absolutely sure of the things I don’t want in my life. It takes a while to reach this stage.
Do not fall for guilt tripping
I believe that we don't owe anything to our parents for bringing us into this world. This may sound selfish. But sacrificing our happiness for keeping them happy is not the ideal way to live. As women, we are more prone to this guilt tripping than men. There were times in my life that I thought I was being selfish and didn't care about the feelings of others. But looking back, I can say that life would have been miserable if I had allowed guilt to change my life choices.
Looking back at life, I could almost see what my future would have been if I tried to fit into the mold somebody has made for me. Mind you, that future gives me nightmares even now. But as of now I am in a state where I am comfortable with my life choices. That doesn’t mean I am done with my unlearning. It is a life long journey is what I feel and I am happy to have taken the ride.